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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Fears of gridlock in France after Macron is left with fragmented Parliament

President Emmanuel Macron voting in Le Touquet, northern France, on Sunday. His centrist coalition secured 245 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly.

By Constant Meheut and Aurelien Breeden

President Emmanuel Macron’s ability to govern effectively was in question Monday after he lost his absolute majority in the lower house of parliament in France, with opposition groups threatening to block his legislative agenda and openly calling for the resignation of his prime minister.

After nationwide voting Sunday, Macron’s centrist coalition finished first overall, with 245 seats, but it fell far short of the absolute majority that it enjoyed in the 577-seat National Assembly during his first term, fueling fears of political gridlock.

“Ungovernable!” read the front page of Le Parisien, a daily newspaper.

Much was still uncertain Monday after the elections, which produced a complex and fragmented political landscape with three main opposition groups: a left-wing alliance, the far right, and mainstream conservatives. All won enough seats to potentially hamstring Macron’s legislative agenda, but they are also deeply opposed to each other in various ways, limiting the prospect of a broad, tenable anti-Macron coalition.

Still, this much was clear: After five years of relatively smooth sailing in a National Assembly dominated by his party and its allies, Macron’s second-term agenda is in for a rough ride.

“My biggest fear is that the country will be blocked,” Olivia Grégoire, a spokesperson for Macron’s government, told France Inter radio Monday. She said that a coming bill to help French households deal with rising inflation was a top priority and would be a first test of the weakened majority’s ability to build consensus.

Macron must now contend with parliamentary constraints that he had mostly been able to circumvent during his first term. His party will not be able to readily dismiss opposition amendments, for instance, and legislative debates could be much harsher.

“It’s like going from a very strong presidential regime to a parliamentary regime,” said Chloé Morin, a political scientist at the Jean-Jaurès Foundation, a progressive think tank. “It moves the center of power to the National Assembly.”

But, she added, unlike other European nations, where political parties are used to hammering out coalitions and compromises, that “is neither the culture of politicians nor of the French people.”

“We have a culture of verticality,” she said, with extensive presidential powers, and after five years of Macron’s top-down governing style, none of his opponents appeared inclined to work with him.

Instead, Morin predicted months of gridlock in the National Assembly, which could prompt Macron to dissolve the body and call new parliamentary elections some time next year.

France’s presidents can rule by decree on some issues, and they have a relatively free rein to conduct foreign policy. But major domestic overhauls promised by Macron during his reelection campaign this year require a bill in parliament, such as his contentious plans to raise the legal age of retirement to 65 from 62, which Macron had vowed to get done by the summer of 2023.

The fate of such bills is now in jeopardy. Macron will most likely be forced to seek a coalition or build short-term alliances with opposition forces if he wants to push through legislation. A natural fit would be Les Républicains, the mainstream conservative party, which, on paper at least, could back some of Macron’s pro-business policies.

“It’s not completely blocked, it’s a suspended parliament,” said Vincent Martigny, a professor of political science at the University of Nice, adding that Macron “is now completely in the hands of Les Républicains.”

But leaders from Les Républicains, some of whom are worried that a long-term coalition with Macron would incur the anger of their political base, have already ruled out a partnership.

“We campaigned in the opposition, we are in the opposition and we will remain in the opposition,” Christian Jacob, the party’s president, said Sunday night. “Things are very clear.”

The two largest opposition forces in parliament — a broad coalition of left-wing parties, which secured 131 seats; and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally, which took 89 — have all but promised to challenge Macron’s government relentlessly.

It was unclear what Macron, who has not yet said anything publicly about the results, would do in the short term. He had vowed that ministers who lost their parliamentary races would have to quit. Three fall into that category and will need to be replaced, if Macron follows through. The president could decide to address voter frustrations by reshuffling his Cabinet more extensively.

Opposition forces are now expected to control key committees, such as the powerful finance committee that oversees the state budget, and to fill strategic positions in the National Assembly.

“They can do everything that Emmanuel Macron doesn’t like, that is, force his hand on some amendments, force him into debates,” Martigny said.

Le Pen, who was handily reelected to her own seat in the National Assembly, managed to bring with her a record number of lawmakers, who are now about 10 times as numerous as they were during Macron’s previous term.

That will enable the party to officially form what is known as a parliamentary group, giving the National Rally more speaking time, as well as specific legislative powers such as the ability to create special committees, further anchoring the party in the political mainstream.

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